Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she was “not the most diplomatic” when she met with the Russian Prime Minister Dimitrij Medvedev on Friday to discuss human rights and other issues. Solberg said the meeting was generally positive, but her counterpart did not like being criticized over Russia’s controversial ‘gay propaganda’ laws and its treatment of activists.
Solberg was in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, and took the opportunity to meet with Medvedev for the first time reported newspaper Aftenposten. She said they discussed many issues, including the human rights controversies she felt were important to get on the record.
“I think they saw me as both concrete and direct in this meeting,” she said, reported news bureau NTB. “I noticed they didn’t think that was the most diplomatic they had heard. The main impression was a good meeting in a good and amicable tone, but of course not quite the bit that dealt with human rights. It was noted that they didn’t like to be criticized. When raising difficult issues, they became defensive, but Medvedev is a lawyer with an understanding of why we are addressing these issues.”
Solberg also questioned new laws which force all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who receive financial support from outside Russia to register as foreign agents, which some groups have chosen to boycott. “It seems that the law is a serious hurdle for the civil community’s work on the environment and human rights,” she told Aftenposten.
The Norwegian Prime Minister said Medvedev had anticipated her human rights critique, and did not believe he was offended by it. “I said the same thing as I’ve said to Russian leaders before,” she explained. “It is important that we have a cooperation which is not only on a Prime Ministerial level, but also on a business level and human to human.”
Solberg said the widespread cooperation between the two countries made it possible to ask the difficult questions. She said Medvedev was friendly, knowledgeable, and ultimately concerned with the issues Norway and Russia could collaborate on. Medvedev told her Russia was working on its NGO laws, and felt that the criticism it received wasn’t always reasonable.
Spotlight on rights
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Solberg raised the issue of gay rights after Russia introduced new laws last year criminalizing the positive portrayal of homosexuals to minors, and made it a criminal offense to be openly gay. The laws have been criticized by many world leaders and athletes in the lead up to the Olympic games. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, called for an end to the discrimination in a speech to the International Olympic Committee earlier this month.
Gay rights activists and opposition politicians called for Solberg to boycott the Sochi Olympics to protest Russia’s anti-gay policies. The high-profile statements include a collaboration between Norwegian pop singer Annie and artist Bjarne Melgaard, whose provocative song and video “Russian Kiss” features gay and lesbian couples dancing and kissing. Earlier this week Solberg said it was more important to use the event as an opportunity to express her views with her Russian counterparts.